Bribery in HE Institutions
This story’s been rumbling around in Bishkek for a while now and there’s been some interesting debate in Russian language media, so thought a quick look would be in order. Even so, it is worth noting that the issue is, alas, nothing new – as this paper by Nadezhda Romanchuk from 2002 shows. As she concludes, the situation is far more complex than simply increasing lecturers’ pay:
Nowadays higher educational institutes in Kyrgyzstan is a place which is represented by 2 structures working in different directions: corrupt instructors against honest and professional lecturers, students “studying” for diploma against students who actually value learning effort and intellectual capacities. This article has examined why the corrupt structure work in one way rather than the other way. It is argued that poor salaries below the level of “living wages” lie at the heart of corruption. Increase the salaries and the problem will be cured? Of course, as we have seen, the pressures on a public servant to abuse his or her office are greater if they are living near or below the poverty line. However, the evidence is at best unclear whether increasing public sector wages alone can reduce corruption. A deeper look at the state universities’ specific data doesn’t support the notion that merely increasing official salaries to existing staff in corrupt agencies would help.
Tackling corruption has been one of the major themes taken up by Bakiev and his government, even if currently there is more rhetoric than action, and education is one of the spheres where corruption has flourished, not just in Kyrgyzstan but across Central Asia, as RFE/RL noted in a 2004 article, “Buying Ignorance”.
Obviously, this is not to say that the Kyrgyzstani case is unique, nor that corruption is a problem only in parts of the world outside Europe and North America – far from it, as no system is perfect. But what is notable about Kyrgyzstan at the moment is the amount of debate currently going on about the issue of corruption, and in particular bribery, in universities, with growing numbers of students speaking out.
Gazeta.kg published an article atthe end of January about a survey conducted by Sotsoprosburo on corruption in higher education in Bishkek. The result of this was 10 of Bishkek’s VUZy being ranked for corruption, with the focus on incidences of bribery. It was not encouraging reading, as the results below show:
According to the results, … the greatest number of students who have at some time paid their lecturers study at the Kyrgyz Technical University. 68% of the total student body of this VUZ have given their lecturers a bribe on at least one occasion.
In second place for levels of corruption is the Skryabin Kyrgyz Agrarian University, where 67.5% of students have passed modules and exams with the help of money or expensive gifts.
The list continues as follows:
This is only a partial picture, not least as the Kyrgyz National University (KGU) wasn’t included, nor the Pedagogical University, Turkish University, or a plethora of other HE institutes. Even so, it gives an indication of the scale of the problem.
The results of the survey indicated that the most corrupt VUZ in the republic is Osh State University, where 86% of respondents confirmed incidences in which lecturers had received money. In second place for levels of corruption is one of the capital’s VUZy, Bishkek Humanities University (BGU), with 82% of respondents confirming [incidences of bribery], then Batken State University, with 80%. Further on by corruption levels, the list is as follows: KTU (Bishkek), OshKUU, NarynGU, OshTU, KGMA (Bishkek), KGPU im. Arabaeva, MUK (Bishkek), KGYuA (Bishkek), KGUCTA (Bishkek), KRSU (Bishkek), Tokmok TIPT, KNU (Bishkek).
Whilst one can quibble with the statistics, there is no arguing with the report’s conclusions:
This situation in VUZy creates the negative thought in students’ consciousness that ‘money can do everything’. And what on earth can we expect from such graduates?! This is how the ranks of corrupt officials are swelled.
The Ombudsman’s report caused some thoughtful exchange on the KelKel yahoogroup email list. The initial response suggested that:
It seems this report has been done to improve the rating of KNU [Kyrgyz National University] and KRSU [Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University], since if one was to ask 100 students from any VUZ in Bishkek, 90% of them would answer that the most corrupt VUZ is KNU, KRSU, KGUSTA, etc. That OshGU and BGU gained the first places in the Ombudsman’s survey for corruption is simply bluff.
Obviously there are differing opinions on this question (my own included), but the contributor’s conclusion that KelKel should conduct their own investigation into the situation in VUZy is to be welcomed, not least as acknowledging the problem is the first step to being able to change it, as the next contributor noted:
Firstly, thank you to the Ombudsman for more recent data and for making us take time to think about these problems.
The survey is valuable insofar as it confirms the fact that corruption has increasingly become seem as a natural norm in society… The survey looked at the problem from below (through the eyes of students), and shows the consequences of a situation in which day after day the system of social welfare is breaking down. This is going on in all post-socialist countries – in Russia, Hungary, Moldova, etc., and is a structural problem.
A third commentator suggested that what is needed is closer monitoring in the form of tracking money flows in VUZy, a method known as resource tracking, as a way of tackling the structural side of the problem:
This is an entire mothodology aimed at combatting corruption and the ineffective use of money. A motivated civil rights organisation (for example a youth organisation) could carry out an investigation into money flows in VUZy with the involvement of competent financial specialists on a contract basis. However, control over the investiagation should always remain with the organisation. One could compare both the size of budgets and their structures: how much a VUZ spends on staff pay, on building maintenance, on buying books, on foreign business trips by the rector, how frequently audits are carried out, are indenpendent auditors used. Then it will be visible where money is flowing, and these flows can be compared in different VUZy. This woulds be more objective than surveys.
This idea might seem far fetched to many people and would most likely face a good deal of resistance from university administrations. But the fact that people are talking about investigating the situation so comprehensively is encouraging. One is left hoping that the debate will continue, expand, and, most importantly, transform into action, so that future students can receive an education based more on ability than on their financial resources.